108 Acres for Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge (MA)

Harvard, Massachusetts: Today, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the addition of 108 acres on Still River Depot Road in Harvard to the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge. Thanks to the hard work of Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry and Congressman Martin Meehan, last year Congress allocated funding for this acquisition from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Building on the relationship that the Town’s Watt Farm Committee and the Harvard Conservation Trust had established over many years with the three brothers who owned the property, last March TPL signed an agreement to purchase 112 acres from the Watt family. Today, TPL sold 108 acres to the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge for $2.75 million and donated four acres to the Town of Harvard, which will use the land to provide a local historic village with a community septic system. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a conservation easement over the four-acre municipal parcel to prohibit development of the land in the future.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy said, “I commend all of the partners who have worked so hard over the years to protect this valuable open space. The additional land will strengthen the Refuge’s efforts in providing important habitat, improving the quality of life for families and neighborhoods, and preserving the environment.”

“We know the difference that it makes in our lives when we protect greenspace and we preserve our states’ treasures against excessive development. I’m especially pleased by the success of this public?private partnership to protect the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge and the Nashua River Watershed, not just for the Town of Harvard, but for all of Massachusetts,” said United States Senator John F. Kerry. “Massachusetts has long known the importance of preserving places like Walden Pond—now, thanks to the work of the Trust for Public Land and the Harvard Conservation Trust, more of the rolling hills of Worcester County are among those special places that will forever be set aside to keep us in touch with nature and provide an important break from the sprawl and development of modern life.”

Representative Martin Meehan commented, “This is a great win for the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge, the Town of Harvard, the Harvard Selectmen, and the cause of preserving open space. Adding the Watt Farm to the Oxbow Refuge will protect prime upland habitat and the Nashua River. Preserving open space and natural landscapes is a critical part of managing regional growth and protecting the environment. Fighting for this project in Congress—alongside Senators Kennedy and Kerry—was clearly a fight worth making.”

“Worcester County faces growing development pressures, and today’s purchase is an important step forward in the effort to balance development with the protection of the area’s water quality and wildlife habitat,” stated TPL project manager Julie Iffland. “The Trust for Public Land is grateful to all of the partners that worked together to make this project a success, and especially to the Congressional delegation for supporting the funding allocation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.” Watt farm is the first property to be purchased with these funds as an addition to the Oxbow Refuge.

“The success of this partnership effort to protect the important natural values of the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge and the Nashua River Watershed is a tribute to the people of Harvard,” said Dr. Mamie A. Parker, acting regional director for the Northeast Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “I applaud the Harvard Conservation Trust for working with the Trust for Public Land to secure this key property from imminent loss to development by holding it off the market while resolving numerous complex legal and financial matters. Their good work will be permanently memorialized by a natural landscape rich with the sights and sounds of wildlife that has always made the rolling hills of Worcester County a place that lifts the human spirit.”

According to Harvard Selectman Lucy Wallace, “About 15 years ago the Town tried to protect Watt Farm through the state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction program, but we were unsuccessful. Little did we know that another opportunity would arise. But thanks to the strong support of the Congressional delegation, regional organizations such as Nashua River Watershed Association, Freedom’s Way Heritage Association, Friends of Oxbow, and, most particularly Harvard Conservation Trust, the Trust for Public Land, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we have now succeeded in preserving this incredible property for the wildlife that depend on its pastureland, for the health of the Nashua River, and for future generations to enjoy.”

Bill Ashe of the Town’s Watt Farm Committee said, “Working together, Harvard Conservation Trust, the Town, the Trust for Public Land, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have preserved valuable wildlife habitat, protected an outstanding scenic vista, and contributed significantly to the Town’s open space objectives. Not bad for a day’s work.”

“Ever since the Watt brothers retired from dairy farming over 15 years ago, the Harvard Conservation Trust has been working with the brothers to preserve the farm as open space,” explained Tom Cotton, president of the Harvard Conservation Trust. “Its addition to the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge is perfect, as the open fields and meadows of the farm provide critical habitat for a variety of wildlife. Grasslands are among the region’s most threatened habitats, and some of the most vulnerable to development. A side benefit of this project is that the traditional rural landscape of Still River village is also preserved. Harvard Conservation Trust is grateful for the assistance that the Trust for Public Land provided in preserving Watt Farm by adding it to the Oxbow Refuge.”

“This is a win-win situation,” said Richie Watt, speaking on behalf of himself and his two brothers, Buzzy and Cliff. “We were able to sell our property for a fair price, the land is protected, and the town can put in a septic system to help improve the water quality in Still River. We’re very pleased that the land is going to remain open, and that our children, grandchildren, and everyone else can enjoy it.”

Comprised predominantly of open fields, Watt Farm lies adjacent to the 1,500-acre Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge, which is located in the towns of Harvard, Shirley, Ayer, and Lancaster along the Nashua River floodplain. Named after the oxbow lakes formed by the meandering Nashua River over many centuries, the refuge contains extensive forested wetlands that provide habitat for a variety of waterfowl, wading birds, raptors, shorebirds, and neotropical migratory songbirds. A scenic gateway to the Refuge, Watt Farm provides breeding habitat for several declining species of grassland-nesting birds, including bobolinks and meadowlarks. In addition, it provides important habitat for waterfowl, songbirds, and many species of raptors, such as red-tailed hawks, kestrels, and great horned owls.

Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1973 and initially consisted of nearly 1,350 acres of land acquired in two transfers from the U.S. Army. The bulk of these lands were acquired in 1973 and 1988 when portions of Fort Devens were transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and in 1999, the Army added another 836 acres along the Nashua River to the Refuge. Ultimately, the Army plans to transfer approximately 5,000 additional acres to the Refuge, upon its final disposition of the Fort Devens South Post.

The Trust for Public Land is a national conservation organization dedicated to protecting land for people to enjoy as parks and open space. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 1.2 million acres nationwide, including nearly 60,000 acres in New England. The Wall Street Journal’s Smart Money Magazine recently named TPL the nation’s most efficient large conservation charity, based on the percentage of funds dedicated to programs. For more information, call TPL’s Boston office at (617) 367-6200 or visit is www.tpl.org.